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Application Note AN-1071

Class D Audio Amplifier Basics

By Jun Honda & Jonathan Adams

Table of Contents

What is a Class D Audio Amplifier? – Theory of Operation ..................2
Topology Comparison – Linear vs. Class D .........................................4
Analogy to a Synchronous Buck Converter..........................................5
Power Losses in the MOSFETs ...........................................................6
Half Bridge vs. Full Bridge....................................................................7
Major Cause of Imperfection ................................................................8
THD and Dead Time ............................................................................9
Audio Performance Measurement........................................................10
Shoot Through and Dead Time ............................................................11
Power Supply Pumping ........................................................................12
EMI Consideration: Qrr in Body Diode .................................................13
Conclusion ...........................................................................................14

A Class D audio amplifier is basically a switching amplifier or PWM amplifier. There are a number
of different classes of amplifiers. This application note takes a look at the definitions for the main
classifications. AN-1071 1

What is a Class D Audio Amplifier - non-linearity of Class B designs is overcome,

Theory of Operation without the inefficiencies of a Class A design.
Efficiencies for Class AB amplifiers is about
A Class D audio amplifier is basically a switch- 50%.
ing amplifier or PWM amplifier. There are a num-
ber of different classes of amplifiers. We will take Class D – This class of amplifier is a switching
a look at the definitions for the main classifica- or PWM amplifier as mentioned above. This
tions as an introduction: class of amplifier is the main focus of this appli-
cation note. In this type of amplifier, the switches
Class A – In a Class A amplifier, the output de- are either fully on or fully off, significantly re-
vices are continuously conducting for the entire ducing the power losses in the output devices.
cycle, or in other words there is always bias Efficiencies of 90-95% are possible. The audio
current flowing in the output devices. This to- signal is used to modulate a PWM carrier sig-
pology has the least distortion and is the most nal which drives the output devices, with the
linear, but at the same time is the least efficient last stage being a low pass filter to remove the
at about 20%. The design is typically not high frequency PWM carrier frequency.
complementary with a high and low side output
devices. From the above amplifier classifications, classes
A, B and AB are all what is termed linear ampli-
Class B – This type of amplifier operates in the fiers. We will discuss the differences between
opposite way to Class A amplifiers. The output Linear and Class D amplifiers in the next sec-
devices only conduct for half the sinusoidal cycle tion. The block diagram of a linear amplifier is
(one conducts in the positive region, and one shown below in fig 1. In a linear amplifier the
conducts in the negative region), or in other signals always remain in the analog domain,
words, if there is no input signal then there is and the output transistors act as linear regula-
no current flow in the output devices. This class tors to modulate the output voltage. This results
of amplifier is obviously more efficient than Class in a voltage drop across the output devices,
A, at about 50%, but has some issue with lin- which reduces efficiency.
earity at the crossover point, due to the time it
takes to turn one device off and turn the other Class D amplifiers take on many different forms,
device on. some can have digital inputs and some can have
analog inputs. Here we will focus on the type
Class AB – This type of amplifier is a combina- which have analog inputs.
tion of the above two types, and is currently one
of the most common types of power amplifier in
existence. Here both devices are allowed to
conduct at the same time, but just a small
amount near the crossover point. Hence each
device is conducting for more than half a cycle
but less than the whole cycle, so the inherent



Generator +Vcc


COMP Deadtime
+ -
Amp Nch

Fig 1 Block Diagram of a Class D Amplifier


Fig 1 above shows the basic block diagram for the input signal is a standard audio line level
a Half Bridge Class D amplifier, with the wave- signal. This audio line level signal is sinusoidal
forms at each stage. This circuit uses feedback with a frequency ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz
from the output of the half-bridge to help com- typically. This signal is compared with a high
pensate for variations in the bus voltages. frequency triangle or sawtooth waveform to cre-
ate the PWM signal as seen in fig 2a below.
So how does a Class D amplifier work? A Class This PWM signal is then used to drive the power
D amplifier works in very much the same way stage, creating the amplified digital signal, and
as a PWM power supply (we will show the anal- finally a low pass filter is applied to the signal to
ogy later). Let’s start with an assumption that filter out the PWM carrier frequency and retrieve
the sinusoidal audio signal (also seen in fig 2b).

Class D
switching stage LPF

Fig 2a PWM Signal Generation Fig 2b Output Filtering

Fig 2) Class D Amplifier Waveforms 3

Topology Comparison – Linear vs. Class D Gain – With Linear amplifiers the gain is con-
stant irrespective of bus voltage variations, how-
In this section we will discuss the differences ever with Class D amplifiers the gain is propor-
between linear (Class A and Class AB) amplifi- tional to the bus voltage. This means that the
ers, and Class D digital power amplifiers. The power supply rejection ratio (PSRR) of a Class
primary and main difference between linear and D amplifier is 0dB, whereas the PSRR of a lin-
Class D amplifiers is the efficiency. This is the ear amplifier is very good. It is common in Class
whole reason for the invention of Class D am- D amplifiers to use feedback to compensate for
plifiers. The Linear amplifiers is inherently very the bus voltage variations.
linear in terms of its performance, but it is also
very inefficient at about 50% typically for a Class Energy Flow – In linear amplifiers the energy
AB amplifier, whereas a Class D amplifier is flow is always from supply to the load, and in
much more efficient, with values in the order of Full bridge Class D amplifiers this is also true. A
90% in practical designs. Fig 3 below shows half-bridge Class D amplifier however is differ-
typical efficiency curves for linear and Class D ent, as the energy flow can be bi-directional,
amplifiers. which leads to the “Bus pumping” phenomena,
which causes the bus capacitors to be charged
up by the energy flow from the load back to the
ā Temp rise test condition supply. This occurs mainly at the low audio fre-
quencies i.e. below 100Hz.

Linear Amplifier


Class D Amplifier

Fig 3 Linear and Class D Amplifier Efficiencies


Analogy to a Synchronous Buck Converter

A simple analogy can be made between a Class

D amplifier and a synchronous buck converter.
The topologies are essentially the same as can
be seen below in fig 4.

Fc of LPF is
above 20KHz
Gate Driver
Gate Driver



L1 L1
3 3
1 + 1
2 2



Q2 Q2

Audio signal input as

a reference voltage

Buck Converter Class D amplifier

Fig 4 Topologies for Synchronous Buck Converter and a Class D amplifier

The main difference between the two circuits is The final difference is in the way the MOSFETs
that the reference signal for the synchronous are optimized. The Synch buck converter is
buck converter is a slow changing signal from optimized differently for the high and low side
the feedback circuit(Îa fixed voltage), in the MOSFETs, with lower RDS(on) for longer duty and
case of the Class D amplifier the reference sig- low Qg for short duty. The Class D amplifier has
nal is an audio signal which is continuously the same optimization for both of the MOSFETs,
changing. This means that the duty cycle is rela- with the same RDS(on) for high and low side.
tively fixed in the synch buck converter, whereas
the duty is continuously changing in the Class
D amplifier with an average duty of 50%.

In the synch buck converter the load current

direction is always towards the load, but in Class
D the current flows in both directions. 5

Now lets look at the losses for a Class D ampli-

Power Losses in the MOSFETs fier. The total power loss in the output devices
for a Class D amplifier are given by:
The losses in the power switches are very dif-
ferent between linear amplifiers and Class D PTOTAL = Psw + Pcond + Pgd
amplifiers. First lets look at the losses in a lin-
ear Class AB amplifier. The losses can be de- Psw are the switching losses and are given by
fined as: the equation:
1 Vcc
(1 − K sin ω ⋅ t ) Vcc K sin ω ⋅ t • dω ⋅ t
PC = ⋅∫ Psw = COSS ⋅VBUS ⋅ f PWM + I D ⋅VDS ⋅ t f ⋅ f PWM
2 ⋅π 0 2 2 ⋅ RL
Pcond are the conduction losses and are given
Where K is the ratio of Vbus to output voltage. by the equation:
This can then be simplified down to the follow- Pcond = ⋅ Po
ing equation for the linear amplifier Power switch RL
Pgd are the gate drive losses and are given by
Vcc2  2K K 2  the equation:
Ptot = ⋅  − 
8π ⋅ RL  π 2 
Pgd = 2 ⋅ Qg ⋅Vgs ⋅ f PWM

Note that the power loss is not related to the As can be seen in a Class D amplifier the out-
output device parameters. Fig 5) below shows put losses are dependant on the parameters of
the power loss vs K. the device used, so optimization is needed to
have the most effective device, based on Qg,
Loss RDS(on), COSS, and tf . Fig 6 below shows the power
losses vs K for the Class D amplifier.
2 Loss
Pc 0.2 CC
8 RL
Efficiency can be
improved further!

K=2/ƒÎ K=1 K=1

Fig 5) Power Loss vs. K for Linear Class AB Amplifier Fig 6 Power Loss vs. K for Class D Amplifie


Table 1: Topology Comparison (Half-bridge vs. Full-bridge)

Similar to conventional Class AB amplifiers, In the half-bridge topology, the power supply
Class D amplifiers can be categorized into two might suffer from the energy being pumped back
topologies, half-bridge and full-bridge configu- from the amplifier, resulting in severe bus volt-
rations. Each topology has pros and cons. In age fluctuations when the amplifier outputs low
brief, a half-bridge is potentially simpler, while a frequency audio signals to the load. This kick-
full-bridge is better in audio performance. The back energy to the power supply is a funda-
full-bridge topology requires two half-bridge mental characteristic of Class D amplification.
amplifiers, and thus, more components. How- Complementary switching legs in the full-bridge
ever, the differential output structure of the tend to consume energy from the other side of
bridge topology inherently can cancel even the the leg, so there is no energy being pumped
order of harmonic distortion components and back towards the power supply.
DC offsets, as in Class AB amplifiers. A full-
bridge topology allows of the use of a better Table 1 shows the summary of the comparison.
PWM modulation scheme, such as the three
level PWM which essentially has fewer errors
due to quantization. 7

Fig 7: Major Cause of Degradation

An ideal Class D amplifying stage has no dis- diode characteristics.

tortion and no noise generation in the audible 4. Parasitic components that cause ring-
band, along with providing 100% efficiency. ing on transient edges
However, as shown in Fig 7, practical Class D 5. Power supply voltage fluctuations due
amplifiers have imperfections that generate dis- to its finite output impedance and reac-
tortions and noise. The imperfections are tive power flowing through the DC bus
caused by the distorted switching waveform 6. Non-linearity in the output LPF.
being generated by the Class D stage. The
causes are: In general, switching timing error in a gate sig-
nal is the primary cause of the nonlinearity. The
1. Nonlinearity in the PWM signal from timing error due to dead-time in particular has
modulator to switching stage due to lim- the most significant contribution of nonlinearity
ited resolution and/or jitter in timing in a Class D stage. A small amount of dead-
2. Timing errors added by the gate drivers, time in the tens of nano-seconds can easily
such as dead-time, ton/toff, and tr/tf generate more than 1% of THD (Total Harmonic
3. Unwanted characteristics in the Distortion). Accurate switching timing is always
switching devices, such as finite ON re- a primary concern.
sistance, finite switching speed or body

Let us take a look at how the dead-time affects nonlinearity.

Fig 8: THD and Dead-time

The operation mode in a Class D output stage tive DC bus. This action is automatically caused
can be categorized into three different regions by the commutation current from the demodu-
based on how the output waveform follows the lation inductor, regardless of low side turn-on
input timing. In those three different operation timing. Therefore the timing in the output wave-
regions, the output waveform follows different form is not influenced by the dead-time inserted
edges in high side and low side input signals. into the turn-on edge of low side, and always
follows the high side input timing. Consequently,
Let’s examine the first operating region where the PWM waveform is shortened only by the
the output current flows from the Class D stage dead-time inserted into the high side gate sig-
to the load when the amount of the current is nal, resulting in slightly lower voltage gain as
larger than the inductor ripple current. At the expected from the input duty cycle.
instant of high side turn-off and prior to low side
turn-on, the output node is driven to the nega- 9

A similar situation happens to the negative op- different gain. The output waveform will be dis-
eration region where the output current flows torted by these three different gain regions in a
from the load to the Class D stage. The amount cycle of the audio signal.
of the current is larger than the inductor ripple
current. In this case, the timing in the output Fig. 8 shows how significantly dead time affects
waveform is not influenced by the dead-time THD performance. A 40nS dead time can cre-
inserted into the turn-on edge of the high side, ate 2% THD. This can be improved to 0.2% by
and always follows the low side input timing. tightening the dead time down to 15nS. This
Consequently, the PWM waveform is shortened punctuates the significance of seamless high
only by the dead-time inserted into the low side side and low side switching for better linearity.
gate signal.
Audio Performance Measurement
There is a region between the two operation
modes described earlier where the output tim- Audio measuring equipment with an AES17
ing is independent of the dead-time. When the brick wall filter, such as Audio Precision AP2,
output current is smaller than the inductor ripple are necessary. However a classic audio ana-
current, the output timing follows the turn-off lyzer like the HP8903B can be used with ap-
edge of each input because, in this region, turn- propriate pre-stage low pass filter is applied. The
on is made by ZVS (Zero Voltage Switching) important consideration here is that the output
operation. Hence, there is no distortion in this signal of a Class D amplifier still contains sub-
middle region. stantial amount of switching frequency carrier
on its waveform, which causes a wrong read-
As the output current varies according to the ing, and those analyzers might not be immune
audio input signal, the Class D stage changes enough to the carrier leak from a Class D am-
its operation regions, which each have a slightly plifier. Fig. 9 shows an example of a filter.

470 680 1K

R1 R2 R3

R4 4.7n 2.2n 1n HP8903
C1 C2 C3

Fig 9: Example of an output filter


Fig 10: Shoot-through prevention

However, a narrow dead-time can be very for a reliable design of a Class D amplifier to
risky in mass production. Because once ensure that the dead-time is always positive and
both high and low side MOSFETs are turned never negative to prevent MOSFETs from en-
on simultaneously, the DC bus voltage will tering the shoot through condition.
be short circuited by the MOSFETs. A huge
amount of shoot-through current starts to
flow, which will result in device destruction.
It should be noticed that the effective dead-
time can be vary from unit to unit variation
of component values and its die tempera-
ture. Fig. 10 shows the relationship between
the length of the dead time and the amount of
shoot-through charge. It is extremely important 11

Fig 11: Power Supply Pumping

Another marked cause of degradation in Class power supply has no way to absorb the energy
D amplifiers is bus pumping, which can be seen coming back from the load. Consequently the
when the half bridge topology is powering a low bus voltage is pumped up, creating bus voltage
frequency output to the load. Always keep in fluctuations.
mind that the gain of a Class D amplifier stage
is directly proportional to the bus voltage. There- Bus pumping does not occur in full bridge to-
fore, bus fluctuation creates distortion. Since the pologies because the energy kicked back to the
energy flowing in the Class D switching stage power supply from one side of the switching leg
is bi-directional, there is a period where the will be consumed in the other side of the
Class D amplifier feeds energy back to the switching leg.
power supply. The majority of the energy flow-
ing back to the supply is from the energy stored
in the inductor in the output LPF. Usually, the


Fig 12: EMI Considerations

EMI (Electro-Magnetic Interference) in Class ducting state unless the stored minority car-
D amplifier design is troublesome like in rier is fully discharged. This reverse recov-
other switching applications. One of the ery current tends to have a sharp spiky
major sources of EMI comes from the re- shape and leads to unwanted ringing from
verse recovery charge of the MOSFET body stray inductances in PCB traces and the
diode flowing from the top rail to the bot- package. Therefore, PCB layout is crucial for
tom, similar to the shoot-through current. both ruggedness of the design and reduc-
During the dead-time inserted to prevent tion of EMI.
shoot through current, the inductor current
in the output LPF turns on the body diode.
In the next phase when the other side of the
MOSFET starts to turn on at the end of the
dead-time, the body diode stays in a con- 13


Highly efficient Class D amplifiers now provide

similar performances to conventional Class AB
amplifier if key components are carefully se-
lected and the layout takes into account the
subtle, yet significant impact of parasitic com-

Constant innovations in semiconductor tech-

nologies are increasing the use of Class D am-
plifiers usage due to improvements in higher
efficiency, increased power density and better
audio performance.

WORLD HEADQUARTERS: 233 Kansas St., El Segundo, California 90245 Tel: (310) 252-7105 Data and specifications subject to change without notice. 2/8/2005